LONDON — Since it began in 2016, the Legal Geek Conference has evolved along with the UK’s legal tech community, carving further inroads within the legal market. And this year’s event was no different even as the pace of change in the legal industry and especially around legal tech continues to rapidly advance.
Today, law firms are creating their own labs and incubators to help accelerate the development of startups, and partnerships between the two flourish. Recently, Barclays entered the space through its LawTech EagleLabs initiative, creating a consortium with the Law Society of England and Wales, the 17 law firms on Barclays’ panel, and some leading academic institutions to co-ordinate support for startups.
Clearly, legal tech is not a recent phenomenon; but what Legal Geek is successfully doing is bringing a renewed focus to disruption and innovation of the established norms that exist in the legal market. Today, many legal tech startups are using artificial intelligence techniques, scaling up with cloud computing, and, increasingly, experimenting with blockchain technologies in the solutions they are developing.
While it is acknowledged that there is much hype in this sector, this year’s Legal Geek conference shined a light on the hard yards needed to be overcome by startups and their customers before real value can be realized. Hella Hoffman, senior data scientist in Thomson Reuters Labs, spoke about this on the main stage, explaining that to make the most of artificial intelligence, the key ingredients are: data (lots of it), human expertise, technology, and design.
During the first morning session, Lord Richard Keen, a minister in the UK Ministry of Justice, and Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, announced a new panel that aims to make the UK the “perfect” destination for legal tech companies. The LawTech Delivery Panel will tackle challenges in areas including: regulation, ethics, commercial dispute resolution, and education and training. Blacklaws urged startups to come forward and speak about their ideas, challenges and opportunities.
You can read full coverage of the Legal Geek Conference on the Thomson Reuters UK & Ireland legal blog, and also about the conference’s notable “Women in LawTech” session.
And Thomson Reuters announced it was looking for a legal tech cohort to join its Incubator that forms part of the Thomson Reuters Labs. This initiative will provide startups accepted onto the program with access to some of the company’s data and tools, mentorship, and promotion and exposure to Thomson Reuters’ customers, among other benefits.
“Thomson Reuters has a very clear innovation agenda, but we know we cannot do everything,” said Jim Leason, customer proposition lead for Thomson Reuters Legal Professionals Europe. “Partnering is a necessary part of our strategy,” Leason said. “And working with startups who are innovating to deliver enhanced value to our customers around our products is a key component of this strategy.”
Indeed, moving the needle forward on tech adoption was a prevalent theme throughout much of the Legal Geek Conference. Shmuli Goldberg of LawGeex told delegates that the considerable majority of legal startup pilots in law firms or in-house legal departments are “failing because they aren’t very good at buying legal tech. They shouldn’t be buying legal tech based on a curiosity and interest in AI, for example, they should be trying to fix a problem or improve efficiency.”
Catherine Krow, founder and CEO of Digitory Legal, a US-based legal budgeting and resource management platform, highlighted the importance of “getting a pilot off the ground” within a law firm, and that too many pilots are at risk of dying on the vine. “Not because the product is bad, but because lawyers don’t have the capacity to try it,” she said.
“There needs to be messaging and backing from a firm’s leadership that a tech pilot is important,” Krow explained, adding that there needs to be clear messaging around expectation of a pilot’s efficacy and outcomes. In fact, she noted, the legal tech vendor should assist the firm in cataloging the results delivered by the new technology during the pilot, and how the technology has ultimately benefited the client and drove efficiency.